The biergarten has become a gartenbar, but those awesome pretzels remain.
Brät Brot was popular from the start. The Magic City’s first German biergarten opened about a year ago to rave reviews and consistent crowds but then took a cold-weather hiatus to make a few changes.
It reopened on April 23 and quickly became popular again.
The large, carved limestone bar remains a stunning focal point in this open, airy space that was once Plant Odyssey. You’ll still find plenty of German beers on tap as well as local brews, but now there also are draft craft cocktails, a nice selection of wines, European-style mixed drinks and specialty liqueurs.
Angela Schmidt, Brät Brot’s new executive chef, says there’s a cozier atmosphere now. A few beer hall-style communal tables remain to accommodate groups and encourage conversations, but most of the seating has been broken up into smaller, more intimate groupings. There’s casual table service inside now, too.
Schmidt has been part of the local restaurant community for nearly two decades. She spent her formative years in the kitchens of some of Birmingham’s top restaurants. As an entrepreneur, she founded Chef U, an interactive, in-home dining experience. She is a founding member, and the first president, of the Birmingham chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International. And she has a German pedigree; her great-great-great grandfather was from Bremen.
Reimagining Brät Brot from beer garden to garden bar allows Schmidt and her staff to put the emphasis on much more than beer. The food, especially, is exciting.
Most of the dishes are divided into small and medium a la carte portions. There’s a meatball slider with lemon caper sauce on a King’s Hawaiian roll; a fishcake sandwich with fresh salmon and topped with shaved pickled cucumber and remoulade; a Bavarian chef salat with mortadella and butterkäse, red onion, cornichons, cucumbers and red peppers on iceberg with creamy Dijon dressing; and the BirmingHamburger with bacon, butterkäse, pickled red onion, lettuce, tomatoes and haus pickles.
There are four large boards that are meant for sharing. The snack board has a giant pretzel, beer cheese, apple butter, summer sausage, butterkäse, dill-pickled vegetables and fruit. The larger German board features bratwurst, Hungarian sausage, cheddarwurst, a pretzel, Bavarian potato salad, chow-chow, beer cheese, pickled veggies, sauerkraut, yogurt-dill cucumbers and haus mustards. Then there’s the Kummerspeck, which Schmidt says translates to “emotional over-eating” and features s’mores, apple strudel, black forest cake roll and vanilla ice cream.
Even a casual look at the Brät Brot menu reveals a Southern twist on a German theme.
It felt like a natural approach, Schmidt says, because there are pockets of German culture throughout the South.
“For instance, Kentucky has a large concentration of German immigrants. … Central Texas has a lot of German immigrants as well. … So we have woven in Southern ingredients; our beer cheese is kind of like a pimento cheese. We have a Southern chow-chow on the menu. We tried to … broaden the concept to kind of take in all of these influences just to make something that’s more local, more … Southern and approachable,” Schmidt said.
The sausages are made especially for Brät Brot by a butcher in Atlanta, and several of the cheeses, like the creamy cambozola blue and the fragrant limburger, are imported from Germany. Many more ingredients are made in house, including the pickled vegetables, various mustards, sauerkraut and leberwurst. They use locally made Corey Hinkel pumpernickel and challah breads and Joujou’s pita. The frankfurter has its own homemade Greek-style sauce, a nod to Birmingham’s local tradition.
“We kept coming back to this idea of paying homage to the great hot dog history here,” Schmidt said.
The pretzels are popular, but “two things on the menu that I think are interesting and people might not know a lot about are the street-food items,” Schmidt says.
“We have the currywurst, which is fries with a bratwurst over it and then we drizzle our curry ketchup and a garlic-Dijon mayo over it. That’s a pretty popular dish, and so is our Döner. It’s a chicken shawarma. We use the Joujou pita with the garlic-Dijon mayo, some chiffonade iceberg lettuce, the yogurt-dill cucumbers and a couple slices of tomato. It’s a fantastic little sandwich.”
Schmidt also is proud of the expanded bar program. There are draft cocktails (“batched daily and served with love”), including the popular Das Sankt with gin, St-Germain, lemon and a tea olive sprig as garnish and the Hasselhoff with rye, bourbon, Jägermeister and lemon expression. There’s a selection of Mischgetränke: classic and contemporary European mixed drinks like the Radler (Bitburger Pils and your choice of blood orange, lemon or grapefruit San Pellegrino), Colaweizen (Tucher Hefe Weizen and Coca-Cola) and a Berlin Mule (Asbach Uralt brandy and ginger ale). And there are flights of European liqueurs.
Brät Brot (by the way, Brot rhymes with goat and it translates loosely to “sausage bread”) is owned by David Carrigan, who owns Carrigan’s Public House on Morris Avenue in downtown Birmingham.
Like Carrigan’s, Brät Brot is designed to be a place for gathering, a place for fun in a lighthearted atmosphere. Handmade glass pendants in the shapes of sausages hang from the ceiling. Native plants – oak leaf hydrangeas and autumn ferns – create a garden-like setting inside; there’s a boar half hidden in this shrubbery. The elk above the bar is named Harry. The small neon cross above Harry’s head creates the Jägermeister logo. There’s a wolpertinger in a glass case near the front door; this rabbit with wings, antlers and duck feet is a mythical creature from Bavarian folklore – a kind of cousin to our jackalope.
The back patio at Brät Brot is like no other in town. Picnic tables are separated by living partitions of green shrubs so these spaces become almost like outdoor rooms. There are shaded tables along the wall, and growing wisteria will soon shade the rest. There are plenty of games here, too: giant Jenga, cornhole and pingpong on an impressive marble table.
There are weekly and daily specials (Tuesdays see $6 draft cocktails from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.; there are $5 glasses of wine on Wednesdays and bottles are half off; on Thursdays, you can get your pretzels for half price). There’s a beer stein-hoisting contest every Thursday at 9 p.m. The kitchen closes at 10 most nights, but every Friday, there’s a late-night brunch from 10 to midnight.
“We have loaded latkes, which is a nice, big portion of celery root and potato latkes topped with cheese, red onions, tomatoes, shaved jalapenos, diced ham and our Greek dog sauce,” Schmidt says. “We also have a Monte Cristo … that’s challah bread stuffed with Black Forest ham and Gruyere cheese dipped in an egg batter and griddled. We serve it with powdered sugar and hot maple syrup.” There’s also a breakfast burger with cheddar, applewood-smoked bacon and a pancake bun studded with maple candy. The Belgian waffle sundae with Nutella fudge, vanilla ice cream, Ferrero Rocher hazelnut truffles, hazelnut Pirouline wafers and chocolate shavings is “as big and ridiculous as we could make it,” she says.
Brät Brot has filled a niche in the awesome Birmingham food scene by offering delicious food and great drinks, German and otherwise, that are both familiar and excitingly unusual, Schmidt says. “And we’re doing that in a unique setting. Brät Brot is a gathering spot. It’s comfortable. It’s definitely some place you can come (for) a date night or (with) a group. It’s just one of those comfortable places you hope is going to be around forever.”
Brät Brot Gartenbar
2910 Sixth Ave. S.
Birmingham, AL 35233
(near Birmingham’s Lakeview area)
Tuesday through Thursday: 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Friday: 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
Saturday: 11 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.
Susan Swagler has written about food and restaurants for more than three decades, much of that time as a trusted restaurant critic. She shares food, books, travel and more at www.savor.blog. Swagler is a founding member and current president of the Birmingham chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International, a philanthropic organization of women leaders in food, wine and hospitality whose members are among Birmingham’s top women in food.